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comparitive and superlative forms
Easy going

Babak Bagheri studying English in Canada writes:

As you know, two-syllable adjectives ending in
take the suffixes -ier and -iest for their comparitive and superlative forms.

But what do you do when you have hyphenated adjectives? Does easy-going become easier-going or more easy-going? And does user-friendly become user-friendlier?


Roger Woodham replies:

You are quite right, Babek, two-syllable adjectives ending in -y have -ier and -iest as their comparative and superlative. Thus:

pretty prettier prettiest
happy happier happiest
dirty dirtier dirtiest
messy messier messiest
  • Yours is the messiest room I have ever seen.
  • She was the prettiest and happiest girl at the party.

Note that other common two-syllable adjectives ending in an unstressed vowel normally take the -er/-est patterns:

simple simpler simplest
clever cleverer cleverest
  • The cleverest solution to any problem is usually the simplest one.



Others, particularly participial adjectives formed with -ing and -ed and those ending in -ious and -ful form their comparatives and superlatives with more and most:

boring more boring most boring
worried more worried most worried
anxious more anxious most anxious
careful more careful most careful
  • Watching cricket is even more boring than playing it.
  • My wife was certainly more anxious than I was when
    Penny failed to return.
  • I bought the wrong type of hair shampoo for Joan. Next
    time I was more careful.

Note that most sometimes means very:

  • I was most careful to leave the room as tidy as I had
    found it.
  • I became most anxious when I heard that there had been
    a fire at the hospital.
  • I was most impressed by Deborah’s performance as Lady Macbeth.

With some two-syllable adjectives, er/est and more/most are both possible:

  • The commonest /most common alcoholic drink in Poland is vodka.
  • He is more pleasant /pleasanter to talk to when he has
    not been drinking.



Three or more syllable adjectives take more or most in the comparative and superlative except for two-syllable adjectives ending in -y and prefixed with un-:

reasonable more reasonable most reasonable
beautiful more beautiful most beautiful
untidy untidier untidiest
unhealthy unhealthier unheathiest
  • John is the unhealthiest person I know, but one of the most successful.



Hyphenated adjectives, which are also known as compound adjectives, normally use more and most for the comparative and superlative forms. This is the general rule. Sometimes we have to use more/most if, for example, the adjectival part of the compound ends in -ed. So, sun-tanned would have to be more sun-tanned, just as tanned would have to be more tanned:

  • You’re more sun-tanned than I am.

Sometimes it is not so clear-cut, so we would say that one form is more likely than the other. In your examples, Babek, both are quite possible, it seems to me.

If you want to try some examples look at our Message Board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.

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